Fight fans are now fully accustomed to treating Saturday night as the primary destination for high profile prizefighting, but folks should know that HBO has had boxing on their air on a weekday night before.
The last time came back in 1996, and it was a Thursday night, and it was a most memorable occurrence, which struck fear in the hearts of even intrepid souls caught in a flash-fire after a sudden and surprising climax to a beyond chippy heavyweight collision.
Travel back to July 11, 1996, and Main Events, promoter of Sergey Kovalev, meeting Isaac Chilemba in Russia this evening, in a clash to screen on HBO, repped Andrew Golota. A talented but oft intolerant of frustration type, Golota got paired against Riddick Bowe, who took his undefeated record and not inconsiderable train of baggage into a Madison Square Garden ring. The stakes: this was supposed to be another in a row of rebuilding Ws for Bowe, so he could get to the Lewises and Tysons of the fight world.
Ah, boxing. Planning in this realm is not impossible, it's wise to try and plot out likelihoods and try and make a roadmap for chess board moves, but it can be like trying to nail jello to a wall…
The Polish rumbler's GPS was busted, if you recall, and it had him launching cup-busters at the Brooklyn-born heavyweight aces' jewelry collection again and again and again, to the point that an exasperated referee Wayne Kelly had no choice but to pull the plug on the scrap.
In round seven of a tango in which Golota fought with passion and precision and technical excellence, when he wasn't trying to explode Bowe's testes, the ref said no mas.
Carl Moretti, an executive with Top Rank, had hair and a position at Main Events back then.
He knew his guy Golota had a good shot to beat Bowe, who'd been enjoying the fruits of his labors as champ and then was wrestling with a comedown and attempt to build back up and wasn't in A grade shape.
Bowe (38-1 entering) weighed in at 240 in his previous tango, against Evander Holyfield, their third and final faceoff. He bruised the scale at 252 for Golota (27-0), a USA Tuesday Night Fights mainstay who maybe got underrated because of his complexion, and his peeps, who were trucked in from Brooklyn en masse, were thrown off by their guy getting worked.
“Riddick said to us the other day, ‘Why do I have to train hard to fight a bum,” said HBO analyst Larry Merchant to start round seven, the round when Kelly could take no more low-blowmanship.
Golota had finished a vicious flurry, his combos strafing a static Bowe, when he veered again into numbskull land. A left landed low, Kelly saw it, and Bowe dropped to the mat. The ref signaled end game.
Riddick's guy Rock Newman and more of Team Bowe took a run at the Pole, opening the floodgates, and it went off the rails, hard and fast. A man named Jason Harris smashed a Walkie Talkie on Golota's head, as Jim Lampley called the play by play. “Someone's going to get hurt,” he predicted.
“Golota was boxing beautifully,” Moretti recalls, “and then he started going low, and couldn't control himself.”
When the stuff hit the fan, I wondered, what was the level of terror felt by Moretti in a roiling MSG? “There was racial tension to start in the building and then it just went off. One to ten, it was at eleven,” he said.
Golota trainer Lou Duva collapsed and got removed on a stretcher and Moretti and the Golota crew and a few others darted to a dressing room, as brush fires of rumbling and beatdown carried on for 4-5 rounds worth of time. Cops seemed to be caught in donut shops…
Golota after the Wild melee was mostly quiet, shell shocked, Moretti said. Then, a pounding on the door.
They had to let these guys in, it was Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
The boxer wasn't arrested, but he was, after a couple hours, spirited out of the building, to a hotel across the street. In a paddy wagon. Maybe not his first such trip…
The joint got crazed, more so than maybe it would have, because NYPD weren't then working the arena. Moretti for sure believes that he won't be present for such mayhem. “It was a hot summer night and yeah, I was there for Fan Man, but this was another level.”
As anniversaries go, this 20 year celebration deserves, perhaps, to be noted for helping bring attention to reminding for the need for order in the ring after fights finish. That there was not sufficient manpower and security present for such an event, pitting two boxers known to engage in street tactics, with impassioned rooters in tow, is in retrospect foolhardy. By and large, that lesson got learned July 11, 1996. We dare say tonight's HBO presentation, taken from a ring in Ekaterinburg, Russia, will not feature such aberrantly dramatic misadventures.